Sermon Series: A Bold and Boundless People
|May 20||A Bold Wind||Acts 2:1-21||Rev. Ben Boswell|
|May 27||A Bold Witness||Acts 4:1-22||Rev. Ben Boswell|
|June 3||A Bold Worship||Acts 4:23-37||Rev. Ben Boswell|
|June 10||A Bold Welcome||Acts 8:26-40||Rev. Chrissy Williamson|
On the top of our Order of Worship, we state that “Inspired by the bold and boundless hospitality of Jesus, we are ‘open to all,’ which means we welcome and accept all people into the life of our Church without regard to race, gender, sexual orientation, age, economic status, physical or mental capacity, or religious belief.” The phrase “bold and boundless” is language that was recommended to us by current Deacon Judy Bratton, as a way to describe the degree and the scope of our welcome as a people of faith. The word “bold” is of particular interest to me, because it is a word that is found frequently in the book of Acts (or should I say the second half of the gospel of Luke) to describe the early followers of Jesus. Parrésia (παρρησία) is the Greek word that is translated as “boldness.” It means confidence or resolve in speech or action, freedom in speaking, openness, plain spokenness, unreservedness especially in speech, frankness, without ambiguity or circumlocution, fearless confidence, and cheerful courage. That definition could easily describe a Myers Park Baptist congregational meeting!
The word parrésia appears in the book of Acts over eleven different times, and every time it occurs the word is used to describe the courage, the speech, the action, and the witness of the disciples as they testify before skeptical religious leaders and oppressive Roman authorities. In Acts 4 the Sanhedrin (or Jewish ruling council) is surprised that “uneducated, common men” like Peter and John could be so bold. Later in chapter 4 the disciples actually pray for boldness and it says “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” In Acts 9 the disciples in Damascus are astonished by the boldness of Paul’s preaching. In Acts 13 and 14, Barnabas and Paul speak boldly to the Jewish community in Antioch and Iconium. In Acts 18 Apollos speaks so boldly in the synagogue that he captures the attention of Pricilla and Aquila. In Acts 19, 26, and 28, Paul speaks with boldness in synagogues, before the vicious King Herod Agrippa, and finally in the imperial city of Rome—where Paul would eventually be martyred for his boldness. In fact, the word “martyr” literally means “a bold witness.”
Boldness is a defining character trait of the earliest followers of Jesus, and it should be no different for us today. After the resurrection appearances of the risen Jesus, the disciples did not start going out into the world to share the love and peace of Christ or the vision of the kingdom of God. According to Luke, they were still terrified and locked in the upper room where they’d had their last meal with Jesus—closed off from the outside world in fear of the authorities. But something incredible happened. This cowardly group of followers who had abandoned and denied Jesus, rejected the empty tomb, and failed to believe in the testimony of Mary Magdalene and others who had seen the risen Jesus, eventually got up, left the tomb of fear they had encased themselves in, and went out with fearless boldness and conviction to preach the good news and speak truth to power in the most dangerous places to the most powerful people in the world.
How did people like Peter and John go from being the most terrified and feckless people in the world to some of the bravest people in the world? How did the early disciples of Jesus transform from frightened followers into people willing to sacrifice their lives for Jesus and the mission of the early Church? How did they go from petrified children to heroic martyrs? The answer that the author of Luke-Acts gives us is: the Holy Spirit. May 20th is Pentecost Sunday, which is the Sunday when Christian communities typically celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birthday of the Church. It is a remembrance of the day when the disciples were gathered in the upper room for fear of the authorities and a bold and mighty wind rushed in, filling them with the spirit, and tongues of fire fell from heaven giving the disciples the ability to speak in other languages. Christians associate the Holy Spirit with wind and fire not simply because that is what the story tells us, but because wind and fire are symbols of power and the Holy Spirit is the energy force of God in the world that empowers the people of God with the boldness and courage to stand up and speak truth to power, and to live resurrected lives as witnesses to Jesus in the present.
During this season of Pentecost we are going to explore some stories from the book of Acts that detail the bold words and deeds of the early followers of Jesus. In so doing, it is our hope that you will be filled with the Spirit of boldness in your life and work in this world in ways that help to stand up for what is right and bring the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. So, be bold and boundless not only in your hospitality and welcome, but be bold and boundless in your faith and your life.
W. Benjamin Boswell